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Community and Q&A

Reaching out toward collective wisdom (questions about long term implications of better buildings)

orangutan_librarian | Posted in Energy Efficiency and Durability on

Hello all. Full disclosure first: I am working on a research paper and am interested in building efficiency. I understand quite a bit of the science involved (and am in the process of planning a Pretty Good House hoping to break ground next year). But I haven’t been around the block or in the industry enough to “know what I don’t know”, so to speak.

With that said, I am broadly focusing on comparing the two methods of addressing greenhouse emissions. Namely, (1) the efforts to switch to zero-carbon energy production and (2) use energy more efficiently.

My suspicion is that (2) is undervalued in the marketplace, especially in residential housing. I am interested in some guidance or thoughts from players in the industry on this subject. Whether that be links to discussion about this (I’m sure there are many), or papers addressing it or perhaps things I am missing. My hypothesis is that the long term gains from an energy efficient house are under priced because of the up-front costs and relatively low stakes for most people involved (including many homeowners)

In designing my own house, I became much more intimately aware of how poor a code minimum build is, as well as how much this code affects. Energy efficiency seems to be a “add on” for custom builds, and is certainly at the bottom of the list for most rental properties and public housing.

Which leads to my main topic: why is code minimum so bad in most places? It seems that if we are building 50-100 year structures, we should put a relatable amount of foresight into building them. Especially when builders don’t really have much reason to care if renter’s are uncomfortable with high energy bills. I know this is a bit of preaching to the choir on this forum, but perhaps there is more nuance (code has to work for all zones, etc.).

I hope this doesn’t come across as asking for handouts! I am genuinely interested in the discussion and want to hear how others have spent time thinking about this. Thanks!

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  1. Jon_R | | #1

    I'd start by calculating $/ton for the various requirements of the 2021 IRC and compare to alternatives like utility scale PV. Some of the former are over-priced.

  2. plumb_bob | | #2

    In BC, our code minimum is about to change. The gov't is implementing an "energy step code" that will require progressively more energy efficient SFDs starting in December of 2022. We will be jumping in at step 3, which requires every house to use and energy advisor to model energy use, and emphasizes air tightness. This will be verified by testing, and a fail means no occupancy. Steps 4 and 5 will see further requirements.

    Not sure what other codes are doing, or planning.

    Some jurisdictions in the South of the province have jumped in voluntarily already and are well along the path.

  3. Expert Member
    BILL WICHERS | | #3

    Code is a D-, the minimum passing grade. But that doesn't always mean that going beyond code EVERYWHERE is a good idea. For some examples, I would not build with the maximum joist spans allowable in the code, because I don't want my cabinets to rattle when I walk on the somewhat bouncy floor that you get that way. R15 basement wall insulation though, is probably beyond the point of diminishing returns, so the extra money to go from R10 to R15 in my climate zone (5) is probably better spent elsewhere. R49 in the attic is SOMETIMES another place that it doesn't make much sense to go beyond code, but that's a tougher call to make since it's usually pretty cheap to just blow in some more loose fill insulation to get up to R60 or so -- especially with cellulose.

    Code minimum isn't necassarily "so bad", and the tradoff with going too overboard is that you drive up the cost of housing. There are tradeoffs that need to be made, and energy efficiency isn't the only one, and isn't even always the most important.

    I do think energy efficiency tends to be undervalued though, and a lot of that is because people don't see insulation. Look at any of the "renovation" shows on TV, and you'll see that almost everything they do is for appearance only -- paint, kitchen finishes, etc. Do you ever see them beef up the structure, except if there is something they have no way to get around? I don't mean doing stuff for "open concept-ification" though -- that's not an upgrade to the structure, it's a structural modification *for aesthetic reasons*. Everything is about appearances, because that is what sells the houses. Almost no normal buyer pays extra because you put an extra R5 of exterior rigid foam on when you did your siding project, for example. Out of sight, out of mind. For most people anyway -- most of us on GBA are obviously different here, but we have slightly different goals sometimes, and usually an interst in building science that drives us to do better, or to at least "do it right".

    In the commerical world, where I do most of my work, energy efficiency is HUGE, and not because of codes, it's because of bean counters. In my industry (telecommunications), energy is far and away our biggest cost. A 1% energy efficiency improvement can save tens of thousands of dollars a year in energy costs. I do audits, and entire upgrade projects, to get only a few percent improvement. We optimize everything, even the placement of plumbing fittings on chilled water lines (fewer bends means less energy pumping water, so less energy costs to run the pumps). Everything is optimized, and the drivers are energy efficiency and space optimizations (bigger buildings both cost more to build, but also have more energy losses!). Homeowners tend not to think about the total cost of ownership as much as the commerical people do, so homeowners tend to focus more on finishes.

    I'm not a fan of forcing upgrades through the codes in most cases, because you drive up costs, often unnecassarily, and you restrict design choices. I do think it makes sense to try to educate people so that they can make better decisions. A lot of this stuff works together as a system, so a change to the roof line might make it easier to insulate with loose fill insulation, which makes it cheaper to get some extra R value into the attic, which improves energy efficiency. Not too many people think about that though. Zone HVAC systems can help too, but letting you cut back on heating unoccupied areas of your home at different times of day.

    I like to stress that it's important to consider the entire system and not just any one part of it. People have a tendency to focus in on certain things that they think they understand, or that they think are very clear in terms of pros and cons, often to the exclusion of other things. An example from a recent Q+A here was someone looking to move away from a gas fired hot water heater to reduce their carbon footprint, but this only works if you go to a heat pump hot water heater -- an electric resistance hot water heater will actually INCREASE your use of natural gas in most areas of the country, it's just that that gas is burned in a power plant somewhere where you don't see it. Educating people to think about things as a system instead of a collection of individual parts can help to improve the overall efficiency of the system.


    1. andy_ | | #13

      Bill said: "I do think energy efficiency tends to be undervalued though, and a lot of that is because people don't see insulation."
      Amen! I agree that home buyers tend to be completely unaware of the efficiency and thus energy cost of the home. Before we buy a car or fridge we get to see a sticker that tells us what to expect. Sure, a lot of people will still buy the 8mpg SUV but enough people will see the stats and figure that they're better off with something that won't cost them $100/wk to drive.
      We need some way to inform the potential buyer of what to expect with the utility bills and how that house compares to others. I know it's complicated to accurately distill that information per home, but it'd be huge at motivating people to go for more efficient homes.

  4. orangutan_librarian | | #4


    Thank you for the lengthy reply. This gives me a lot to think about. Some of it was rattling around in the back of my head but I couldn't quite put my finger on how to articulate it as a question.

    Do you mind me asking what industry you work in? At the moment I'm studying Energy Engineering at UIC- this is exactly the type of career that I am interested in... some form of energy auditing.

    Anyway, back to my subject. I guess I don't know enough about how codes are made and what considerations are taken to really take a stab at critiquing them. This is well beyond what should perhaps be a 1/2 semester research project. I don't doubt that the folks making the codes are more experienced and competent than my initial question gives them credit for. I suspect part of my drive is being around forums/discussions with other home builders who are paying very little attention to the performance of their building envelope and spending most of their effort on the visible things (roof lines, room layout, entertainment centers).

    Your final paragraph is all the stuff off my dreams; analyzing overall system performance. I think it's back to the drawing board for me. Thinking out loud, while the subject overall is great, it's beyond the scope of what I should dive into right now.

    Thanks for ruining my paper subject, guys! ;)

    1. Expert Member
      BILL WICHERS | | #5

      I work in the telecommunications industry primarily, but I consult on other things. The basic rule of a consulting engineer is "we work for anyone who pays us money" :-) I design and consult on (and sometimes manage under contract) datacenter and other "critical" facilities. Much of my work involves power systems and cooling plants, although I also design optical networks. I'm an electrical engineer by original training, and I say "original" training because like many in the technical fields, I learned a lot more from experience over the years than I got from school.

      A LOT of the work I do ends up having to do with optimizing large facility power and cooling systems and generally working to keep energy costs down as much as possible. Most of my customers have monthly electrical bills in the 6 figures, so they are ALWAYS interested in saving money. To give you an idea how much can sometimes be saved, I have done projects without billing my time. I get paid (per contract) a portion of the money that I save my customer through system optimizations. The more I save them, the more money I make on the project. If I save them nothing, I make nothing. I have never not saved my customers money on these projects. Typical savings are in the thousands of dollars per month. The most I think I've saved was a few hundred thousand dollars annually for a single project for a single customer. A lot of the optimizations have to do with tailoring airflow paths to avoid hot and cold air mixing in the datacenters, and minimizing losses in the electrical systems (which is a lot trickier). I have gone so far as to paint black roofs white to reduce solar gain (which does work). You have to think creatively. I've designed zero dimension sliding air baffle doors using polycarbonate sheet sliding on trolleys in pieces of unistrut, for example. The baffles can slide along the equipment racks at the ends of the rows in the datacenter. Zero dimension doors mean no loss of rentable space, so there is an efficiency gain with no ongoing cost to the customer.

      If you were around here and I had one of these kinds of projects going right now (right now everything is generator and backup power system projects), you could shadow me for a day and see some stuff hands on. I've done a lot of educational outreach for STEM students, it's a lot of fun to show them stuff "in the wild", with actual, functioning systems -- usually BIG systems.

      Regarding that last paragraph, if that's what you want to do, look into what "energy raters" do. I suggest reading some of Allison Bailes' articles over on his Energy Vanguard site. He has a lot of technical articles that are written in a friendly and fun way, with good explanations of what is going on. You might find some good information there. These guys help with systems design. Energy auditors are similar, but not quite the same. People like me a bit of both, along with being systems engineers. If you want to get into that field, I recommend working with some industrial contractrors where you'll get experience with all of the systems-type trades (mechanical, electrical, a little bit of structural and general construction). Our job is to ensure all those things work together as well as possible to try to optimize the operation of the system as a whole, to keep operating costs as low as possible. It can be fun work, but try not to have to be on call for emergencies. Being on call sucks.


      1. orangutan_librarian | | #15


        Haven't forgotten this info yet. Got two kids in tow so it's a bit difficult to find time to respond here. I've downloaded some offline reading of Allison Bailes' stuff for when things slow down around the household a bit.

        Do you work for yourself or do you work for an organization? My mid-life career change has me simultaneously analyzing a lot of potential avenues. Thanks again-

  5. seabornman | | #6

    Until everyone in the residential building process, from architects to installers, understand what the current codes and best practices are, there's no sense in talking about improving energy efficiency. My belief is that only 10% of the people involved know what's going on. And it's not improving very quickly. A lot has happened in building science in say the last 30 years, and residential construction is an industry that's very slow to change.

  6. Mark_Nagel | | #7

    WARNING/DISCLAIMER: I'm possibly going to upset a lot of people, but now it's not about attacking anyone's person (if one has a fragile ego then one ought to attend to That in one's own way- I'm not involved). Before lashing out at me try first to have a bit of introspection. If we fool ourselves (ignorance or self-deception) we will NOT get THERE (I don't know where "there" is as I don't profess to offer any solution or prescription for the future; best I can say is that I look to muse [get the bigger brain people to think harder]). I DO NOT profit (in any sense of "income" or financial investment activities) off of anything related (directly OR indirectly) to any of which I speak of here.

    Bill is essentially bringing to light the notion of "externalization." If we want to be honest with ourselves (keep in mind that humans are deceptive and that we have plenty of example from history to prove this point) we HAVE to have full accounting of our "costs."

    Please note that I am NOT disputing anyone's well-meaning intentions. But, as they say, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." We have a lot of blinders, key being "human hubris."

    What are the costs for developing, deploying, operating and maintaining things? We often overlook the "developing" part of this in that we don't account for the cost of our activities not being spent on something else that may be more beneficial- Opportunity Cost. How much energy and resources were required for actual humans to do development work? Costs are externalized to road systems (commuting) and much more.

    IMO we're tech-ing ourselves to death. Reliance upon technology is really only having ourselves chasing our own tails. As tech allows us to go "faster" it appears that we're doing something, when in actuality we're only chasing our tails faster.

    We can NOT "consume" our way out of our growth problem. But yet that's exactly what technology is attempting to do. Consider:

    Sequestration via nature, trees, is magnitudes more efficient. What any astute observer will note when it comes to technology is that it requires maintenance (well, forest management also, but the amount/costs here is always going to be less). Dependence on technology means dependence on supply chains. With the COVID-19 outbreak we're seeing the vulnerabilities in supply chains: following the Fukushima disaster, Toyota found out its system didn't anticipate such disruptions and adjusted their system to allow for increased stocking of critical components [Toyota is good at learning lessons and was likely better positioned for the COVID-19 disruptions; but, there's always something new, something that wasn't anticipated- Fukushima nuclear power plant is itself a prefect example of this- human hubris, "we have it all covered!"]).

    Imagine a point where we HAVE to have carbon sequestration plants operating in order to actually have breathable air. Imagine an unknown disaster occurring in which such plants fail to be maintained properly and their operation is drastically compromised. Well, yes, natural disasters can also take out trees (in many cases nature will, on its own, regenerate, it doesn't rely on "supply chains"- note that in say the case of a forest fire we can deploy a LOT of humans to battle it- in the case of a failed mechanical sequestration planet there are only so many people that can be involved [and if KEY people were unavailable?]).

    I think about a lot of this stuff (those who deal with big commercial systems, people like Bill, have to), about what to do in the event of a failure. I live in a rural area and have to account for more failure events than those in urban areas (for now). My main energy source is: TREES. I am fortunate to have property that has and grows trees. I actively manage the trees (mostly saplings- rescue from the stranglehold of invasive vegetation). If I were to go by the prescriptives for modern building codes I'd have to move to electricity (fossil fuels burned elsewhere, or, from hydro-electric, from dams, dams having limited lifespans [think about that]). I would have to pay more for energy, Opportunity Costs would include a reduction in management of trees in order to bring in additional "income" to pay for that energy. Can everyone reside on property such as I have? No. But the reality is:

    "Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country." -- William Jennings Bryant

    Wars are fought over resources, not cities (though wars can be fought IN cities in order to gain the accounting functions of those resources).

    Cities are overwhelmingly consumption centers. And growing them means the reduction in the production of essential requirements (aka food, water). Some oversimplification here, but the underlying current is that of "growth," and we cannot grow our way out of problems.

    I was a high-tech junkie and have shifted more toward a wanna-be Luddite: I'll never occupy only one these camps! Neither technology or Luddite-ism can "save" us as long as we continue to grow- perpetual growth on a finite planet isn't possible.

    Elon Musk isn't going to take everyone into space as an escape from a dying planet, not unless you're in his "club" (I doubt anyone here is in such rarefied air). I'll further add that if we couldn't learn to properly conduct ourselves on THIS planet then we won't likely do so on some other planet. I believe that believing that we can escape this planet is the very worst approach we can take (unless we all decide that Elon Musk's genes are worth it all).

    Here's a relevant example of all this:

    Trees can do the work MUCH cheaper. While they are also subject to natural disasters, they're not reliant upon supply chains (they can self-regenerate). Forests provide living habitats for other life forms. What other life forms do those mechanical carbon sequestration plants support (directly)?

    "Efficiency," as John Jevons noted (see Jevons Paradox), just means more efficiency in consumption. I recall reading that the average rate of speed through New York City hasn't changed from the days of horse travel to today's modern vehicles. And look at the amount of oil production in the world today (it's the world's number one traded commodity, so it's a prime example). We've become vastly more efficient at extracting and refining it, and as a result we're consuming FAR more of it today than before. This holds for everything, including "efficient" building materials and systems.

    The wealthier of us humans (by measure I, and everyone here is one) have access to the most energy efficient devices, yet, according to this -

    "Among all the countries and income classes in the study, the top 10% consume roughly 20 times more energy than the bottom 10%."

    "Renewables" depend on non-renewables (we've hidden/externalized them through disruptions in others' "back yards" - often through wars and other oppressive actions). But let's say that there are no non-renewables required (I was really high on this notion, using hot fusion to "recycle" everything back to their atomic origins, until I understood THIS->), we STILL have the issue of GROWTH- eventually humans will overrun the environment (ALL living things do; others, however, don't leave toxic trails [heavy metals and radioactive material]).

    In my mind long-term maintenance and repair of our "solutions" need to be more readily taken to heart. We have a "consumable" mentality, and despite marketing hype about things being more durable the reality is that our economic system requires that production sees an increasing market size: refer to imperialism, to Cecil Rhodes [and we celebrate "Rhodes Scholars!"].

    "Conservation" over "efficiency." Former directly challenges growth.

    CONFLICTS OF INTEREST: I "own*" a fair amount of land which contains trees. The bulk of my energy comes from reclaiming the carbon from those trees: heating my home. I do a LOT of caring for my trees and land. I feel that although I am effectively trading "carbon credits" with myself, I'm a bit more exposed to the realities of energy use/production. * I really consider myself as a "caretaker," always the thought that the land I'm caring for will one day be cared for by someone else.

    1. orangutan_librarian | | #16

      That's a lot of stuff. I have my own personal discussion points about all of it. But not worth going into here.

  7. jonny_h | | #8

    One comment I'd add is that you shouldn't be so quick to say a "code minimum" build is definitely quite poor. While code minimum is, as many people like to point out, the worst building allowed by law, modern code is actually quite decent. Things like R-49 to R-60 roof insulation, continuous exterior insulation on 2x6 walls, and air infiltration testing requirements used to be the realm of niche fanatics 20 years ago, but are now mandated by code.

    The key caveats here are adoption / enforcement, and *how* the requirements are met. High volume builders are less interested in the legal minimums than they are the fastest and cheapest way to accomplish something -- and if local code enforcement is lax or nonexistent, or if the area they operate in hasn't adopted more recent codes, the product you get won't even be up to "code minimum" standards. The other part of this (as others have said above more eloquently) is looking at the system / lifecycle costs. I think of this every time I see a post on here of someone with a new build, going for "high efficiency" and talking about using closed-cell spray foam everywhere. For the builder, it's a fast way to hit R-value and airtightness targets -- just squirt foam everywhere -- but it comes at a financial and environmental cost that often isn't justifiable. There's plenty of examples of this, the spray foam one is just the most glaring one that shows up here about once a week.

    Mark also makes some good points -- continuous growth, which our economic system mandates, is by definition not sustainable. We're building a skyscraper, but we're building so high and fast that we've failed to notice the foundation has already crumbled and the lower floors are falling away, and the current plan seems to be to continue building faster than it falls.

  8. Kirk_Ellis | | #9

    I think it really comes down to the law of diminishing returns and the average turnover time for home ownership. Take wall insulation vs. energy bills as an example.

    A 2000sf home will typically have at least 3000sf of exterior wall. If adding a first layer of R13 exterior insulation will cut energy bills in half, and it adds $2/sf of wall to do that, then how long does it take to pay back that $6k upfront cost in energy bills ? If the energy bills will be reduced from $3k/yr to $1.5k/yr, then it is a no brainer to do that because most homeowners stay in a home at least 7 years.

    Adding a second layer of R13 would not only be more expensive than the first layer due to longer structural screws, but it would reduce energy use by less than the first layer accomplished because the first layer of continuous insulation already created a sufficient thermal break. The second layer might cost $2.50/sf, adding another $7.5k to the cost of the build, but only reduce utility bills by another $500/yr. That is a tough sell for a homeowner that will only be in the home on average 7 years, not the 15+ it will take to pay back. Building Codes can justify the first R13 but not the second R13 on cost recovery alone. People resent being forced to do things that have no benefit to themselves. Besides, at some point in the future, they would have the option to add solar panels that might have a better cost/benefit ratio than more insulation as the cost of PV continues to fall. They can keep their future options open without an upfront cost at build time.

    Some energy conservation fanatics would advocate taxes to make energy so expensive that the second layer makes cost sense, but economics doesn't work like that. The cost of that second layer would go up with higher demand until the benefit became marginal again.

    People having custom homes built for themselves are much more likely to look at longer timelines for payback, especially if they are building their "dream home" or retirement home, than people buying a tract house that won't be worth any more in 7 years than the tract houses across the street built to the minimums allowed.

    Remember that a lot of first time home buyers are short on down payment but can afford higher monthly expenses. Adding $25K in energy upgrades to a new house might require another $5K in down payment they simply don't have, while they can afford an extra $150/mo in utility bills. Unfortunately, that first time buyer of a newly built home dictates how energy efficient that home will be for the next 20+ years.

  9. plumb_bob | | #10

    Perspective is key. The average homeowner will agonize over the type of Italian marble that they put on the backsplash (it might even ruin a marriage!), production builders agonize over saving 1/2 box of nails per house, etc. Everybody is thinking about their personal short term goals, and the building codes are really the only way to achieve quality and consistency over the entire market.
    I see code minimum buildings that are built with excellent attention to detail, and are truly high quality. I also see code minimum homes that are smashed together and are of low quality. So the devil is in the details. Unfortunately, I feel a top down approach is the only way to raise up the industry across the board as their are too many competing interests.

    1. Expert Member
      BILL WICHERS | | #11

      >" and the building codes are really the only way to achieve quality and consistency over the entire market.
      I see code minimum buildings that are built with excellent attention to detail, and are truly high quality. "

      That's a bit of a contradiction :-)

      Code can't force quality, but it can force higher costs. Quality comes from attention to detail, which requires good builders who care. Building codes have a tendency towards a "one size fits all" approach, which can cause problems that often end up with a worse result than if the code just didn't mandate some particular thing.

      It would be nice if we had some ways to measure overall efficiency of a structure, but that's very difficult to do in practice. About the best thing we currently have is the ACH requirement, which at least ensures some reasonable initial air tightness value. Even that doesn't always accomplish anything in practice though -- I know someone who cracks their bedroom windows at night in the winter because otherwise their bedrooms get too hot. I keep saying they need to adjust the dampers to balance the system for heating in the winter, but they haven't done it. What does an air tightness, or even an energy efficiency code, accomplish when the homeowner is just going to leave a window open in the winter?

      I try to advocate for education so that people understand why some things are good, and even save them money in the long term -- sometimes even the not-so-long term! Many times I hear people lamenting about the loss of net metering rules for solar, for example, and I always say you don't need net metering to make solar work, you can use it for peak shave instead, which is better for the utility, cheaper to install for the homeowner, and accomplishes the same fundamental thing IF you don't obsess about trying to be "net zero".

      There will always be someone who does something silly to cancel out your best efforts (leave a window open in the winter...), or, in my commercial work, customers using cheap-o plug strips to run their mission critical equipment, and then being surprised when the cheap-o plug strip quits (it's happened). Why spend thousands of dollars a month for a fancy datacenter for reliability and then cheap out and save maybe $10-20 on a plug strip? It is a fact that in any sufficiently large system, there will always be exceptions, always be failures, and always be something unexpected that happens.

      I recently was reading some email from someone who worked on the Apollo program at NASA. He said "Regardless of how large you make the MTBF of each part ... put enough of them on the rocket and something will always be broken."" Similar things come into play any time things get large and complex enough.


      1. Kirk_Ellis | | #12

        "...customers using cheap-o plug strips to run their mission critical equipment, and then being surprised when the cheap-o plug strip quits (it's happened)."

        I resemble that remark !

        I was an IT manager before I retired. Had the LAN go down once because my admin grabbed a cheap power strip to attach a rack of gigabit switches into. My favorite was when warehouse clerks ignored the ORANGE colored power receptacles throughout the building -- you know the ones clearly labeled "Critical computer equip only" -- that ran off the UPS system, and plugged their electric space heaters into them.

  10. plumb_bob | | #14

    I can only imagine a building world with no codes and no oversight, it would be such a mess. The guys that already are doing a good job would continue to achieve quality, but the hacks would have an absolute free run to build the way they want, and the result would be abysmal.

    Education is great. In BC residential builders must be licensed and put a warranty on every new home, and they must complete a minimum amount of mandatory education every year to keep their license in good standing. Yes it is a bureaucratic system with flaws, but i have seen "1980" type builders pick up their game on things like air tightness, flashing details etc. because of it. With every new home having a 10 year warranty on structure, not too many guys are skimping on footings anymore.

    When I look at buildings, energy efficiency is actually pretty far down the list of critical importance. Safety, health and building longevity come first.

    It is a good conversation.

    1. Expert Member
      BILL WICHERS | | #17

      I don't think anyone is advocating for NO codes -- I'm sure not! Code can go overboard though, and remember than anyone can submit new code ideas. Manufactures sometimes try to get their products required by code, since then everyone is required to buy those products!

      What I don't like is poorly thought out codes, or overly burdensome codes that achieve little or no real benefit. There is a study done in Minnesota, for example, that basicaly shows that R15 basement wall insulation adds so little benefit that it may never pay for itself. That study shows R10 is probably about optimum -- and this is in a state known for their cold winters! Arc fault circuit breakers are another code that doesn't really add much value.

      I just think the "code should require x" mentality is asking for trouble. Having worked on many projects over the past 25 years or so, I can tell you that a lot of stuff gets missed by inspectors regardless -- especially little detail stuff. I just today was on a job at what I call an "office in front / warehouse in back" commerical building. The wall between the front office space and the warehouse is a firewall, usually a 2 hour wall as I recall. EVERYTHING penetrating that wall is supposed to be firestopped. What did I see at the site? Lots, and lots, of wall penetrations and NOTHING was firestopped. There were some air ducts going through too -- usually a no-no -- and I doubt very much there were fire doors inside any of those ducts. I mentioned this to the customer, who was surprised, said he'd have his guys fix it, and then told me "the city inspectors made me change all my exist signs, but they never saw the missed firestopping". This kind of detail will never be noticed unless there is a fire some day, at which point the fire will be able to spread much more rapildy.

      It wasn't that long ago I was contracted by a commercial property manager to do some work in one of their multitenant buildings. One of the things I noticed was someone had run a whole bunch (20-30+) communications cables through a fire door in a vertical air duct -- a big one -- that went from the ground floor to the roof. Every floor had fire doors where the vertical chase connected to the ceiling space of that floor. Wires were through the fire doors on almost every level. Those wires would prevent the fire doors from closing in a fire, which would allow the fire to spread between floors very rapidly. This kind of fire has killed people. The property manager asked for my recommendation. I said make your tenants pay to fix it (it was all cabling installed by tenants). He didn't know which tenants ran the cables. I said cut them all and see who complains, then make the complainers fix everything. I told him what was needed to "fix" things (sleeves, firestopping, etc.), and that it was very important to not run ANYTHING throug the fire doors since that will prevent them from operating in a fire.

      Don't count on rules on paper to fix or improve anything, they're really just suggestions, in a way. People need to know and understand why this stuff is important before it gets taken seriously.


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